Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Peter the Great - What Peter Did Next V

A Victim of the Treaty of Altranstadt
Statue of Charles pointing to Russia
Augustus returned to Saxony, where to the surprise of many, the two kings[i] got on well together. Their relationship was assisted because Augustus was married to Charles’s cousin.
‘The two kings dined together several times afterwards. King Charles always affected to give the right hand to King Augustus.’[ii]
The person most affected by the Treaty of Altranstadt was Patkul; the treaty demanded the handing over of all Swedish traitors in Saxony. Patkul had been active in ensuring that the Russian troops quartered in Saxony[iii] were cared for. Following the refusal of the Saxon government to pay for their upkeep, Patkul had extended his own credit to ensure that the soldiers did not starve. Eventually Patkul arranged, with Peter’s approval, to assign the Russian soldiers to the Austrians, who would fund their upkeep and for whom they would fight.

It was this act of Patkul’s that was to see him designated a traitor; when he returned from his betrothal ceremony[iv] he was seized by the Saxons and thrown into prison. The shockwaves of this arrest were felt throughout Europe. The representative of a sovereign ruler had been dealt with outside diplomatic protocols[v]. Prince Golitsky demanded his release, whilst Charles demanded the handover of the traitors.
Possibly deciding that Peter, in Russia, was too far away to cause him immediate harm, Augustus decided that he had no option but to comply with Charles’s demands.
‘And he [Charles] absolutely insisted upon the giving up of General Patkul without delay.’[vi]
Patkul was handed over to the Swedes on 27th March 1707; he was held in a cell, chained to a stake. In October he was tried by court-martial, ordered to deal with the prisoner with extreme severity.

‘Charles XII, forgetting that forgetting that Patkul was the Czar’s Embassador; and considering only that he was born his subject, ordered a council of war to pass sentence upon him with the utmost rigour.’[vii]
Patkul was sentenced to be broken on the wheel, then beheaded and quartered. His body was not buried, but displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors.

Charles Turns East
Having removed two of his three opponents, Saxony and Denmark, Charles now turned his attention to Russia. To avoid a war on Russian soil Peter looked for allies in Europe; promising the Dutch help against their wars with the French; promising France help against England and he asked England to threaten war against Sweden to bring Charles to the negotiating table.

Charles was like a man possessed and was not interested in anything other than bringing down Russia. He was now convinced of the superiority of his own decisions, no longer listening to his own advisers, friends and family. Peter was offering all kinds of inducements to come to terms, including most of his gains on the Baltic, with the exception of St Petersburg, Schlüsselberg-Nöteberg and the Neva River connecting them.
‘I will sacrifice the last Swedish soldier rather than cede Nöteberg’[viii]
was Charles’s considered response. Peter was to be punished as Augustus had been punished. His army was one of the best in Europe and at this time Peter’s successes in the Baltic had not erased the impression of a shambolic army. He informed his client king Stanislaus

‘The Tsar is not yet humiliated enough to accept the conditions of peace I intend to prescribe.’[ix]
Charles intended to dethrone Peter, possibly restore the old regime, cancel Peter’s reforms and abolish the Russian army; in effect thrust Russia back in the medieval period from which Peter had been attempting to rescue his country.

Charles’s officers assumed that the king would strike first at Russia’s new Baltic provinces and reverse the losses of recent years. But Charles’s pan was more grandiose; he intended to strike at the country’s heart, Moscow. He believed that only by humiliating Peter personally in the centre of his country[x], could he achieve lasting peace for Sweden. Peter was encouraged to believe that the Baltic was Charles’s objective. When the march on Moscow began subsidiary operations in the Baltic would start.
Charles’s troops in Saxony were incremented by German Protestant volunteers, eager to support the Protestant monarch who had freed them from Catholic domination. The Swedish army swelled from 19,000 to 32,000 and another 9,000 were being drilled in Swedish Pomerania. There were an additional 26,000 Swedish soldiers in Lithuania and Finland, waiting to join the fight.

On August 27th 1707 Charles rode out of Altranstadt castle on his latest and greatest adventure. During his process through Silesia the peasantry treated Charles and his army as conquering heroes. He even dropped in for a cosy chat with Augustus in Dresden and visited his aunt.
Preparations for War
Peter was aware that Charles intended to invade Russia across its border with Poland. To stop the Swedes living off the land Peter ordered Cossacks and Kalmucks into Poland to create an area of devastation, from which supplies would be unobtainable[xi]. His attempts to recruit soldiers was assisted by the Swedes who had cut the first two fingers of the right hand of 46 Russian soldiers taken prisoner and then returned to Russia as an object lesson. Peter’s answer was simple;

‘For he intended to place one of [the maimed solders] in every regiment, who might be living remonstrance to their companions what usage they could expect from their merciless enemies in case they suffered themselves to be captured.’[xii]

Count Boris Sheremetev
Peter also ordered new fortifications for Moscow; he spent the early summer in Warsaw, where he fell ill and it was not until September that he started the long journey back home. On the way he inspected the fortifications and spoke to army commanders. It was decided to withdraw the infantry from Poland and placed under Sheremetev’s command in Minsk. Menshikov was given command of all the cavalry in Poland.
During this period Peter suffered from a prolonged bout of ill-health, exacerbated by the bad news from the Ukraine, where Bulavin was running riot. And it was during this period that he secretly married Catherine in November 1707. On 6th January, after a period of time spent in Moscow inspecting the defence works and standardising ambassador’s pay amongst other less serious matters, Peter left for Minsk and was en route when he learnt that Charles was advancing through Poland.

The Road to Russia
Poznan in the 17th century
As the Swedish army marched into Poland they were met by scenes of devastation. The Russian cavalry stayed out of reach. The Swedes camped outside Poznan for two months and when they struck camp in November Charles left 5,000 dragoons and 3,000 infantry to stabilise Stanislaus’s insecure throne. The army avoided Warsaw and on 31st December succeeded in crossing the Vistula, by marching northwards to avoid the Russians guarding the far bank.
The harsh weather and bad roads, some just forest trails, took their toll and many of the German dragoon regiments suffered desertions. The Swedes took to brutalising the peasants for their stores of food, killing children if food was not forthcoming or firing villages after killing the inhabitants. Many of the peasants turned to guerrilla warfare, sniping at the enemy from the thick woods. 
Arriving at Kolno, the Swedes found the Russians again conspicuous by their absence and Charles decided to make for Grodno, where Russian troops were massing to defend this strategic town. Charles rode ahead with a few hundred men and to find the bridge across the river Neman still standing and guarded by only 2,000 cavalry. In the battle fought in the early afternoon gloom the Russians, attacked from the front and rear, retreated into the town, which held the Czar himself.

Grodno in the 17th century
Overnight, believing that the whole Swedish army was outside the town, the Russians decamped and in the morning the Swedes rode into a deserted town. The Russians set up a new defensive line on the River Berezina.
Berezina River
Charles and his exhausted army followed; but Charles was pushing his men too hard, having driven them over five hundred miles, with little food and virtually no forage for the horses. The army went into winter quarters on 17th March, northwest of Minsk.

The Summer Campaign of 1708
In early May the Swedes began preparing to move; the troops scoured the countryside for provender before marching off towards the Berezina.

‘The King of Sweden, who had foreseen these difficulties, had provided biscuit for the subsistence of his army, so that nothing stopped him in his march. After he had crossed the forest of Minsky……….he found himself on the 25th June 1708 before the River Berezine, over against Borislow.’’[xiii]
For Charles, although he did not know it, this march through Russia was to end at Poltova. The Swedes converged on Minsk in early June

Meanwhile Peter had withdrawn his army back across the Dnieper River. And then at a council of war Peter ordered that all along the roads from where the Swedes were encamped the land was to be destroyed; creating a zone of devastation 120 miles deep. The town of Dorpat was levelled.
At this time of great tension Peter fell ill again; writing to Golovin

‘I beg you to do everything that can possibly be done without me. When I was well, I let nothing pass, but now God sees what I am after this illness which this place and Poland have caused me, and if in these next few weeks I have no time for taking medicine and resting, God knows what will happen.’[xiv]
Having avoided the Russians on the Berenzina, Charles received information that the Russians were mustering near Golovchin[xv]. He decided to seek out the Russians and fight, rather than march around them, as he had successfully done three times already. Charles defeated the Russians, but this time the Russians stood and fought, rather than run as had so often happened in the past[xvi]. Sheremetev’s troops had not been involved in the fighting and he was able to withdraw them in good order.

Natasha’s Dance – Orlando Figes, Penguin Books Ltd 2002

Russia and the Russians – Geoffrey Hosking, The Penguin Press 2001
Peter the Great – Robert K Massie, Abacus 1992

The History of Charles XII of Sweden – Mr de Voltaire, C Davis & A Lyon 1732

[i] As a sop to his pride Charles had allowed Augustus to retain the title of king
[ii] The History of Charles XII - Voltaire
[iii] Trapped there by the presence of the Swedes between themselves and Russia
[iv] Disillusioned with the whole sorry affair of his native Livonia Patkul planned to retire to Switzerland, where he had purchased an estate, and marry a rich widow
[v] The Saxon government may have been wishful to remove a witness of their poor treatment of the Russian soldiers, who had been close to starving before Patkul assisted them
[vi] The History of Charles XII - Voltaire
[vii] Ibid
[viii] Peter the Great - Massie
[ix] Ibid
[x] As he had done for Augustus
[xi] Charles had shown a distinct preference to supply his armies from the lands they were passing through
[xii] Peter the Great - Massie
[xiii] The History of Charles XII - Voltaire
[xiv] Peter the Great - Massie
[xv] A small village on the River Babich
[xvi] And the numbers on both sides had been roughly equal

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Peter the Great - What Peter Did Next IV

Poland’s New King
Charles XII
Charles was determined to prosecute this war to its bitter end and despite the losses elsewhere in his empire[i] and despite the pleas of his subjects, the Swedish parliament, the entire military establishment and his sister to give up this senseless war in Poland, Charles was immovable, saying
‘Believe that I would give Augustus peace immediately if I could trust his word, but as soon as peace is made and we are on our march to Muscovy, he will accept Russian money and attack us in our back.’[ii]
Having decided to use the avenue of the Polish constitution to remove his enemy Augustus, from his powerbase in Poland, Charles XII helped foment dissatisfaction amongst Augustus’s Polish subjects who did not appreciate his autocratic style of ruling. Despite the setbacks in Estonia Charles fully believed that when the time came, he would be able to sweep the Russians from his former territory.

Charles argued with the Poles that Augustus had overreached his authority as monarch, by dragging Poland into the war against Sweden without the consent of his subjects. Charles had invaded Poland and was now using the countryside to support his troops[iii], telling his generals.
‘The Poles must either be annihilated or forced to join us.’[iv]
Siege of Thorn
In 1704 the Swedes took the fortress town of Thorn, with a garrison of 5,000 Saxons taken prisoner. It was now that the Polish Diet agreed with Charles, deciding that Poland would remain at war with Sweden as long as Augustus remained king. In February 1704 Augustus was deposed and in a rigged election Charles’s candidate Stanislaus Leszczynski[v], was elected. A rump of the Diet was rounded up on 2nd July by Swedish soldiers, in a field near Warsaw and, protected by 100 Swedish troops, voted at the Swedish king’s direction.
‘Count Hoorn and two other general officers assisted publickly at the solemnity, as Embassadors extraordinary from Charles to the Republick. The session lasted until nine in the evening; and the Bishop of Posnania put an end to it by declaring in the name of the Diete Stanislaus elected King of Poland. Charles XII was the first in the crowd to cry out Vivat.’[vi]
Having gained his objective Charles felt unable to leave his client unsupported. The Pope, furious that the candidate of a Protestant monarch had been elected, was threatening to excommunicate those who had taken part in the coronation[vii], which very few of the great Polish magnates attended. Soon after the coronation Charles and Stanislaus signed an anti-Russian alliance.

The Taking of Narva
In May 1704 Peter took his armies back to Narva and supervised the transport of the siege artillery in barges from St Petersburg. He intended to take control of Dorpat[viii] and Narva, two key towns in Estonia. Peter placed Field Marshal George Ogilvie in command of the besieging army.
Peter then rode to Dorpat, which Sheremetev, with 23,000 men, had been besieging since June. He found fault with Sheremetev’s placement of the cannon, which were aimed at the towns strongest bastion rather than the weakest. Peter changed the placement of the guns and the weak point was breached; on 13th July the Swedish garrison surrendered.

Peter hurried back to Narva with Sheremetev’s troops and a heavy bombardment of the town began on 30th July, lasting ten days. When the walls were breached Peter offered generous terms to Count Arvid Horn[ix], Horn refused the offer in insulting language.
Count Horn
The assault on the town began on August 9th; within the hour the walls were breached by soldiers of the Preobrazhensky Guards, to be followed by waves of Russian infantry overwhelming the town. The Russians slaughtered everyone in sight; Count Horn tried to offer a parley but he had left it too late.
‘He [Peter] not only began to be a great soldier himself, but also to teach his Moscovites the art of war: Discipline was established in his troops; he had good engineers, and a great many good officers; and learnt the great art of subsisting his armies……he had got together a fleet which was able to make head against the Swedes in the Baltick Sea..

Having gained all these advantages which were due to his genius only, and the absence of the King of Sweden, he took Narva by assault.’[x]
The taking of Narva removed the danger to St Petersburg from the west.

Sweden’s Next Gambit
On 29th December 1705 Charles struck camp at Warsaw and marched on Grodno, where Peter’s main army was camped on the far side of the river Neman He left behind him a Poland that was not entirely secure as Augustus was still in the field.. This entailed leaving 10,000 troops behind to keep a watch on the Saxons.
In May 1705, en route to his army, Peter was struck down by an illness, which entailed spending a month at Golovin’s house to recuperate. Peter reached his army in June, where it was quartered at Polotsk on the Dvina; from where it could be moved into Livonia, Lithuania or Poland as needed.
The army of 40,000 infantrymen, 20,000 cavalry and dragoons was well equipped and well supplied with artillery. The main problem was the rivalry between the Russian and the foreign senior officers. Ogilvie[xi] was not liked by the Russian officers; he had particular problems with Sheremetev, Menshikov and Repnin.
Peter’s attempted to solve the problem by splitting up the army. But when Sheremetev’s forces were defeated by the Swedes on 16th July in Livonia, Peter wrote bitterly to his Field Marshal, blaming the problem on.
‘Inadequate training of the dragoons about which I have spoken many times.’[xii]
Ogilvie’s problems with Menshikov were acute[xiii]. The situation was complicated by the arrival of Augustus, to whom Peter gave overall command of the army at Grodno. Ogilvie was kept as senior military commander, while Menshikov commanded 8the cavalry and Repnin and a German cavalry officer had subordinate commands.

The rivalries between the various commanders spelt out disaster for the army. Peter forbad Ogilvie to risk his army in open battle even though when Charles hoved into the locality the Swedes were outnumbered two to one. Ogilvie suggested a siege but his subordinates disagreed and urged a retreat. Augustus was unwilling to make a decision and eventually wrote to Peter.
Before an answer could be received Augustus decided he saw an opportunity to regain his throne and slipped away with four regiments of dragoons, promising to retune in three weeks with the entire Saxon army. The Allies could then deal with the Swedes who they would outnumber three to one.

But the Saxons were defeated and a furious Peter wrote to Golovin;
‘All the Saxon army has been defeated by Rehnskjold[xiv] and has lost all its artillery. The treachery and cowardice of the Saxons are now plain: 30,000 beaten by 8,000! The cavalry, without firing a single round, ran away. More than half of the infantry, throwing down their muskets, disappeared, leaving our men alone, not half of who, I think, are still alive.’[xv]
The Russians in Grodno, now running out of supplies, were dismayed to hear of the defeat. The news made Peter determined to move his army out of Grodno and on 4th April the Russian army, throwing more than one hundred cannon into the Neman, started its retreat towards the Pripet Marshes.

Ogilvie’s retreat from Grodno only increased the quarrelling between himself and Menshikov, who gave contrary orders without informing his superior officer. Finally Ogilvie handed in his resignation, which Peter accepted. Ogilvie then transferred to Augustus’s service.

Pripet Marshes
harles ordered his men to following the retreating army; the Swedes were delayed by the destruction of their pontoon bridge across the river[xvi]. He ordered that the army take a short cut through the Pripet marshes which bogged the Swedes down. One observer wrote
‘It is impossible to describe how men and horses suffered on this march. The country was covered with marshes, the spring had thawed the ground, the cavalry could scarcely move, the wagon train got so deep in the mud it was impossible to advance.’[xvii]
It was in Pinsk that Charles resigned himself to the escape of the Russian army, across the featureless plains stretching from horizon to horizon.

Dealing with Augustus
In late summer Charles decided to end the problems caused by Augustus for once and for all. On 28th August 1706 the Swedes crossed the border into Saxony. Augustus’s family had already been dispersed and the state treasury and jewels hidden. The Saxon Governing Council[xviii] had already decided not to resist the Swedes; they had been disillusioned of Augustus’s Polish ambitions, too many lives and too much money had already been lost.

Charles XII at Altranstadt
On 14th September Charles began his negotiations with the council and on 13th November the Treaty of Altranstadt was signed. Augustus was to give up his claim to the throne of Poland and break his alliance with Russia. The Swedish army was to overwinter in Saxony at the expense of the Saxon state.
Meanwhile Menshikov and Augustus were in Poland with a large force of Russian cavalry. Augustus failed to inform Menshikov of the Treaty of Altranstadt, when details were sent to him. Instead he wrote to inform the commander of the opposing Swedish forces of the treaty and begged him to retreat. Augustus’ highly justified reputation for mendacity served him ill; his letter was not believed. His Russian allies defeated his new Swedish allies at the battle of Kalisz on 25th October.
‘The Moscovites that day conquered the Swedes in a pitched battle for the first time. This victory, which King Augustus gained almost against his own inclination, was compleat, and he entered triumphant in the midst of his bad fortune into Warsaw.’[xix]
Peter was overjoyed with the victory, despite the overwhelming odds in his favour[xx]. Augustus meanwhile apologised to Charles and persuaded Menshikov to give him charge of the 1,800 Swedish prisoners, who he immediately sent on parole back to Swedish Pomerania, freeing them up to fight against his erstwhile allies the following fighting season.

Natasha’s Dance – Orlando Figes, Penguin Books Ltd 2002

Russia and the Russians – Geoffrey Hosking, The Penguin Press 2001

Peter the Great – Robert K Massie, Abacus 1992
The History of Charles XII of Sweden – Mr de Voltaire, C Davis & A Lyon 1732

[i] The devastation of Livonia, the breadbasket of Sweden, and the capture of large numbers of Swedish subjects as well as the losses in Estonia and on Lake Ladoga
[ii] Peter the Great - Massie
[iii] Having promised on arrival not to take more than was absolutely essential
[iv] Peter the Great - Massie
[v] His qualification for the job being a strong supporter of Charles XII of Sweden
[vi] The History of Charles XII - Voltaire
[vii] Held in Warsaw, not Cracow where the Polish kings were traditionally crowned and not with the historic crown of Poland, still held by Augustus, who believed that his dethronement was illegal
[viii] Now Tartu
[ix] A childhood friend of Charles XII
[x] The History of Charles XII - Voltaire
[xi] Whose concern for them had made him popular with the men
[xii] Peter the Great - Massie
[xiii] Menshikov traded on his close friendship with the Czar and unknown to Ogilvie, pocketed his senior’s letters to Peter on the grounds that he was already writing to Peter and would inform him of what was happening in any event.
[xiv] Field Marshal and Charles’ senior commander
[xv] Peter the Great - Massie
[xvi] By ice floes carried down by the river’s melt water
[xvii] Peter the Great - Massie
[xviii] Empowered to act in Augustus’s absence
[xix] The History of Charles XII - Voltaire
[xx] The formidable Swedes had frequently overcome greater odds than two to one.